A Turbulent Beginning…
Super Icon began after my previous studio, Icon Games, failed. I’d never really been happy with many of the games we created at Icon, where I tried to develop more casual games or emulate other games. We were also hampered by using our own engine – which was a massive task to maintain and take over to other platforms. After the demise of Icon, I started experimenting with Unity, which we have used ever since.
Super Icon was a new approach – the focus from the beginning was to try and make the games I really wanted to make, games that I loved, passion projects as it were. It was a tough transition, but I definitely believe it was the right one from a creative POV.
The Years from Hell!
I would describe myself as a creative person, and like many creatively minded people, I have suffered with mental health problems – self-esteem, depression, social problems – and although I have never been officially diagnosed, I think there is a strong chance I have Asperger’s Syndrome.
I’ve only ever made video-games, it was my first full-time job, and I have been doing it ever since – which is about 27 years now.
After Icon, we were financially in a very bad place. At the time we lived in Richmond, which is a borough of London. Rental costs were crazy high, and constantly increased while we were there.
I am married and have 3 children, back then they varied from late toddler age (my youngest, Spencer) through to final year of junior school (my daughter Holly).
We had struggled for money for a long time, our games didn’t sell very well so we saw a lot of income spikes – long periods of little income while developing new titles, which we were self-publishing. It was very hard, and incredibly stressful for a number of years, but we got by.
The biggest kicker was when we got evicted for the first time for being late with rent. The landlord had insurance to cover his rental risks, and these insurers were rock hard. We were a few days late, and we got evicted – because that was the was the policy worked. You then have a couple of months to find new housing, which in a place like Richmond is tough, expensive and near impossible when you are out of money.
The long and short of it was, I broke. My mind fell apart, I began self-harming, drinking, crying randomly. I felt so guilty, letting my family down, and such a failure for getting us into this position. I also felt hurt, deeply hurt really – we had done nothing wrong, yet were treated so very badly.
Later I also discovered I had a brain tumour at this time, a benign one, but one that caused some quite profound changes to hormone levels. Essentially it was a tumour on the pituitary gland, and what it did was stop testosterone production. As well as the more obvious physical effects, mentally it kind of fucks you up – and extenuates the effects of depression, stress and so-on.
This situation continued for quite a while, with a steady deterioration of my mental health and the stability of my family. We continued to have major money problems – and the very worst of times came when we had to move again because we couldn’t afford the rent.
We had a dog called Dexter, a beautiful Vizsla, and when we had to move again we couldn’t find anywhere to rent we could afford that took pets. We had to re-home Dex, fortunately to a lovely new family where he gamed a sister, another Vizsla – and I know he has had a wonderful time with his new family. This was the lowest point – the day before they came to pick him up, it was my daughter’s birthday. I remember in the evening, sitting on the kitchen floor, arms pouring with blood, hugging Dexter and sobbing, with my daughter and wife there. Just the lowest point, I felt shame, despair, god it was so bad. For my beautiful daughter to have to go through that. For my wife, for the boys, just the worst of times.
During all of this, I made a game – and the game was Life of Pixel. It didn’t perform very well, but it was the first game I had made for a very long time I felt pleased with, a game I felt was worth people’s time and money to play. I followed that with Vektor Wars, my tribute to 80s wireframe sci-fi visuals and Battlezone. That one sold really badly!
I tried hard to build up a community, but it just didn’t work – I think perhaps because as someone with the social skills of a plank of wood, building a community is pretty much the hardest thing to do. Plus trying to do it when your life and head is falling apart is not great. I just can’t think how to phrase tweets, messages, all that sort of stuff – it is a bit like trying to speak a foreign language! I dislike putting myself out there, on so many levels… I am sure many other indies feel the same, trying to promote a game and your studio, when every aspect of your personality screams against it.
We also for the third and final time got evicted again for falling behind with rent. This time we had to make a heart-breaking decision to move away from the area, as it was just too expensive.
And it was heart-breaking because of the children – perhaps most of all for my middle son, Lucas. He has Asperger’s and struggled at times with school life – but the school he was in, they were like a family to him, they were kind, supportive, understanding – they were wonderful. Lucas loved them and we had to take him away. All three of the children were doing so well in their schools, we were so proud of them. What a wrench that was – but we had no choice, so we relocated. It was fucked up though, and neither my wife or I have ever really got over it – the wrench, the guilt for what we had to do to the kids.
Rebirth of Super Icon
After the move, I started a new game about Lucas and me – Best Buds vs Bad Guys. We call each other Best Buds (well, we did at the time, he is a little old for that now!).
I also started getting treatment for the tumour – testosterone supplements – so mentally I was starting to really pick up. We ran a small Kickstarter for Best Buds, and as mentioned in the previous post, that was successful, and we met the guys from White Moon.
If you haven’t read the previous post, it is here, and covers what happened after Best Buds and the current position we are in.
The reason I wrote this follow-up post was to try and explain WHY the current situation has hit so hard. It explains the journey up until now, and perhaps highlights why indie development has taken its toll.
The thing is, I love creating video-games, and to most people they would probably think, what are you doing? Just get a fucking job. BUT once I do that, I think that will be it – no more games, so it is such a major step, to turn away from all you have known professionally. Weirdly also when you go through so much doing something, the thought of walking away seems even harder. Also I am scared, scared that in the job marketplace I am worthless, a 46 year old washed out indie bloke – who the fuck would want to employ someone like that!?
But on the other hand, I know I can’t ever go through an experience like Richmond again, for my family, it just can’t happen again.
Hence the cry for help, one last try; and I have to try, and I still have hope – hope that I can turn things around once and for all. But it is certainly the last chance saloon now!
If you are still reading after this rather shameful example of shitty indie development, any chance you can help me build up a community? Consider this post my nuclear option ‘call-to-action’ – it was tough to write, and I feel so embarrassed to write it, to admit to this all. I’ll probably delete it before you read it!
Richard Hill-Whittall, March 30
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